Give me Red – Saturday, 32nd week in ordinary time – Wisdom 18;14-16: 19:6-9

Give me Red – Saturday, 32nd week in ordinary time – Wisdom 18;14-16: 19:6-9

The general purpose of the third and final part of the book of Wisdom is to demonstrate, by a series of contrasts, how wisdom preserved the people of Israel in the Exodus. This part of the book (11:2-19:22) can be divided in to five parts or five examples intending to show that Israel has benefitted by the very things that punish Egypt.

1.That God gave them water from the rock instead of the plague from the Nile.
2.That God gave them quail instead of the plague of little animals.
3.That the elements bring favour to Israel instead of punishment.
4.That the pillar of fire was given to the Hebrews instead of the plague of darkness and
5.The ten plagues and the exodus by which God punished the Egyptians and glorified Israel

The tone of this part of the book is more like a homily and the author takes liberties in explaining the text of the Book of Exodus. The author recalls for the Alexandrian Jews for whom this book as primarily written, that once before the Jews had suffered in Egypt, the very land they now lived and then, as he does now, the Lord comes to their rescue. It thus provides a historical basis for trust in God. The exodus events are recounted as an image of God’s final intervention on behalf of the just. The text of today is part of the fifth example; the death for both Egypt (18:5-9) and Israel (18:20-25) and then the events at the Sea (19:1-21)

The fifth example begins with a general summary of the Exodus event. Following the authors cast of thought, the Egyptians were to suffer a fate proportionate to the murder of Israel’s children (verse5). The passage of today elaborates on the traditional accounts of this most dreadful punishment.

When the Egyptians resolved to destroy the Israelite children, God killed the Egyptian first born and later drowned their army in the Red Sea; while thus punishing the Egyptians, God also in the same events glorified his people (18:5-8). Then follows a detailed description of the events as the author sets the stage carefully. It is at midnight, in the quiet and darkness, that the personified word of God appears. As Israel was celebrating the Passover, the Word of God brought death to the Egyptian first born (18:20-25). At his coming, the scene changes from peace to mourning, and from darkness to a disturbed mixture of ghostly manifestations. The Egyptians then foolishly resolved to pursue the Israelites; thus, they experienced the completion of the punishments begun in the tenth plague, and Israel experienced a wondrous journey (19:1-5).

The version of events in this passage of the book of Wisdom are not exactly found in the text of Exodus but forms part of the writers’ psychological tools in making a point. We find that the purpose for these visions is to increase the sting of punishment. So as one child of Israel (Moses) was saved from the Nile, all of Egypt’s soldiers perished at the Sea.

Reflecting on this passage of wisdom on a more pastoral note: We do not know the exact time of day that Jesus was born, but there is an ancient tradition of celebrating this wonderful event at midnight. The Christmas midnight mass remains very popular in our time. How did it begin? One verse in the book of Wisdom (18:14) has had a significant influence on the origin of commemorating the birth of Jesus at midnight. The event to which this verse from the book of Wisdom refers to, took place when “the night in its swift course was now half gone” (18:14).

As we have seen already, this section of scripture actually refers to the coming of avenging angel to Egypt to punish the land for Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Hebrew people go. The terms “stern warrior and sharp sword” certainly fit those circumstances better than they do the birth of Jesus. However, Jesus does symbolically fulfil this passage, for he truly is a spiritual warrior combating evil. The Saviour comes like the avenging angel, bounded from heaven to lead us, his people, out of slavery into a freedom of the spirit. We can happily reflect on the many freedoms we possess in our country and in the Church. Each day and each ‘midnight’, present opportunities for us to invite Jesus to be born again in our lives, to come and set us free.

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